I’m listening for two words I fail to hear: Gilad Shalit. Who? That’s my point.
My ears perk up when I hear words of particular personal interest through the din in a restaurant or other public place. “Yankees.” A certain writer’s name. “Israel.” A special song. Today’s op-ed. A name from the past. At any moment I pluck keywords out of the buzz and babel. But nowhere, at anytime, do I hear “Gilad” or “Shalit.”
Since he’s probably not part of your table talk either, permit me to tell you about Gilad Shalit. On a Sunday morning in June of 2006, Gilad, a nineteen year old corporal in the Israel Defense Forces, was abducted from an army post on the Israeli side of Gaza’s southern border by a Hamas ambush. He is thought to have suffered a broken hand and a light shoulder wound in the attack.
We’ve heard a lot about the “humanitarian” flotilla and the Gaza blockade over the past five weeks. But the real blockade is the barely-mentioned, complete sealing-off from the world of one young prisoner of war, Gilad Shalit, by Hamas.
The International Red Cross has repeatedly requested, and been denied, access to him. The Papal Nuncio to Israel was unable to secure his release through the Catholic Church's Gaza-based parish. Egyptian mediators got nowhere with Hamas.
After two-and-a-half years of Gilad's isolation in captivity, The Deputy Chief of the Hamas Political Ministry told an Arabic daily, “Shalit may have been wounded, and he may not have been. The subject no longer interests us. We are not interested in his well-being at all…”
The only contact Gilad has had with anyone outside his Hamas imprisoners is three letters (one to the Egyptian mediators), an audio tape released after one year of captivity, and—as a result of Israel’s fulfillment of its offer to release 20 female Palestinian detainees and prisoners in exchange for a video proving Shalit was still alive—a video shared with Israelis via television last October.
This blockade, longer by a year than the Gaza Strip’s, is anything but humane. Shalit has been imprisoned by Hamas more than four years.
As Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak observed regarding the 1.5 million people in Gaza needing humanitarian aid, “Only one of them is locked in a tiny room and never sees the light of day, only one of them is not allowed visits and is in uncertain health”—the young captive Israeli soldier who isn’t getting it.
The same is true of attention, basic human, humane, humanitarian attention. Google “Gilad Shalit” or otherwise search for him on the Internet—you’ll find shockingly little, especially for a young soldier whose sole transgression, in common with soldiers of every other country in the world, was serving his country. On people’s lips? Not only is “Gilad Shalit” not on their lips, but not on their minds or even remotely in their cognizance.
Not for the first time, the Israelis are faced with a governmental “Sophie’s Choice.” The “choice” in this instance is the release of some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel in exchange for one Israeli captive held by Hamas: Shalit. “That's the price I am willing to face to bring Shalit home,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu six days ago.
Israel sets great store in recovering every captive. Leviticus 19:16 reads, “You shall not stand idly by the blood of your brother.” In 1957, Israel returned some 5,000 POWs to Egypt for one Israeli pilot, Jonathan Etkes. In 1968, 4,338 Egyptian soldiers taken captive six months earlier by the Israel Defense Forces during the Six-Day War were exchanged for 11 Israeli soldiers captured by Egyptian forces. In 1985, Israel released 1,150 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for three Israeli soldiers abducted by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). In 2008, the Israeli government voted to exchange an untold number of living Palestinian and Lebanese prisoners for the dead bodies of two soldiers who had been kidnapped by Hezbollah militants two years earlier.
I don’t hear anything like “humanitarian aid” without also hearing “Gaza,” Palestinians,” “the flotilla.” I don’t hear “blockade” without “Israel” and “outrage.” “Gilad” would catch my attention anywhere; I might hear it across Madison Square Garden. “Shalit” would resonate. I think I’d catch it whispered at a dog’s pitch. Try me.
My gratitude to Uri Dromi for many of the details in this entry.